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The lowdown on coconut oil

Leland Lo Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a recent trend in health and beauty circles. However, not many know about the different types of coconut oil and which ones are good, bad, or more suitable for particular purposes. Here is a quick but thorough summary on the types of coconut oil

Traditional Coconut Oil

This is the stuff made traditionally in tropical cultures around the word (India, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc). It is made using coconut milk. First, the coconut milk is fermented for specific time (24-48 hours). After fermentation, the coconut milk will separate into two layers; the top layer (creamy) will contain the oils and other solids, while the bottom layer will be mainly water and other water-soluble substances. The top layer will be scooped up and cooked in a pot, which will yield a clear yellow liquid that is the coconut oil.

Scooping out the cream from the fermented coconut milk

Traditional coconut oil has a strong coconut scent. Interestingly, there are some research indicating that traditional heat extracted coconut oil actually contains higher amounts of antioxidants than virgin coconut oil! Some also claim that traditional coconut oil absorbs even more readily into the skin.

However, the strong scent is too much for some people , and the moisture content in traditional coconut oil is high, making it spoil quicker than oil extracted using more modern methods. We personally love traditional coconut oil and would recommend it for anyone that can get their hands on it. You can try making it yourself too!

Refined/RDB Coconut Oil

Refined or RDB (Refined, deodorized, bleached) coconut oil is made by mass processing coconut kernels. The coconut flesh/kernel is scooped out of the shell or even dried with the shell through an inexpensive method. These methods could include placing it under the sun, using fire or using an oven. Some of these methods introduce foreign matter or can be unhygienic, therefore, the quality of refined coconut oil depends significantly on the drying process

After this, the flesh/kernel is pressed or dissolved with solvents, producing the oil. The oil at this stage is unsuitable for consumption, since it contains contaminants. Further treatment under high heat and filtration is required. Some manufacturers add more chemicals to yield more coconut oil, reducing its quality. The high heat does not make the oil unhealthy or rancid, as coconut oil is very resistant to heat, however, the heating and filtration process removes much of the nutrients in the oil.

Refined coconut oil might be less nutritious, but it is good for cooking and other purposes, as it contains no scent. It is healthy for consumption if purchased from a quality manufacturer that has processes in a way that is hygienic and uses minimal chemicals.

Virgin Coconut Oil

There is no official body governing the term virgin coconut oil -- therefore, expect some variability in the term. There is a general consensus, however, that virgin coconut oil is extracted from the kernel of the coconut that has NOT been dried or processed in a way that does not introduce or exposes the kernel to contaminants. This means that the the processing starts from the clean, white flesh of the coconut. 

Generally, this means that the processing is much more expensive than refined coconut oil, hence usually virgin coconut oil is more expensive. A few common ways to extract virgin coconut oil are cold-pressing (applying pressure on dried kernel) and centrifugation (spinning coconut milk in high speeds to separate the oil).

Virgin coconut oil is usually a clear liquid with a mild coconut scent. The micronutrients, which include antioxidants and other good stuff are not lost in processing as there is no filtration or bleaching process. That is the key difference between virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil. We highly recommend virgin coconut oil for general skincare. It can also be used in cooking, however, the taste and scent of coconut oil may not go well with every dish.

refined and virgin coconut oil

Refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil 

Hydrogenated Coconut Oil

Hydrogenated coconut oil is refined coconut oil that has undergone an additional step called hydrogenation. This is the same process that creates margarine, and extends the oils shelf life by quite a bit. 

Avoid this at all cost! The chemical bonds introduced in the hydrogenation process is rarely found in nature, therefore our bodies are not equipped to deal with it (the infamous trans fats). Consumption in the long term will lead to health problems and other issues, just like consuming margarine will (avoid that too)!

Fractionated Coconut Oil

Fractionated coconut oil is coconut oil with particular fatty acids removed or extracted. It is usually marketed to countries in colder climates as coconut oil that does not solidifies. While not necessarily harmful, many of the unique aspects of coconut oil comes from its fatty acid composition, and removing parts of it would almost defeat the point of using coconut oil in the first place.

That being said, fractionated coconut oil is useful for certain medicinal and industrial purposes. 


Traditional and virgin coconut oil have the most nutrients and are most beneficial for both consumption and skincare. Refined coconut oil is good for cooking or consumption, if you can find a good brand/manufacturer. Avoid hydrogenated or fractionated coconut oil as they can be harmful or not beneficial.

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